The Solution

During conflict the potential for environmental damage with serious consequences for the civilian population is vast. Therefore protecting civilians during and after conflict must go hand in hand with protecting the environment they depend on.

Legal protection for the environment during and after armed conflict lags far behind that afforded to it during peacetime. Dozens of peacetime environmental laws seek to limit pollution and other forms of harm and help protect health, livelihoods and ecosystems. Yet when it comes to conflict, International Humanitarian Law does little to stop damage to the environment, with serious implications for the protection of civilians.

Although conflict and the conditions associated with it are always damaging to the environment, at present there is a huge imbalance between the perceived military needs of combatants and the needs of environmental protection. The Toxic Remnants of War Network therefore believes that there is great scope for action to minimise environmentally damaging military behaviours and for properly assessing and addressing damage when it does occur.

Four decades of progress in the field of International Environmental Law has demonstrated that progress is possible using systems that ensure both visibility and accountability for environmental damage. However, it has also shown that progress is rarely achieved voluntarily.

The Toxic Remnants of War Network believes that these globally accepted principles should be used to inform protection and response during and after armed conflict. In doing so we call for the establishment of a stronger standard, whose aim is to protect civilians and the environment upon which they depend.

Importantly, such a standard should provide a permanent vehicle for reviewing the acceptability of the most environmentally damaging military practices.

It should also formalise international assistance and cooperation for dealing with the environmental legacy of conflicts; ensure that those harmed by incidents are identified and properly assisted; ensure robust and independent monitoring of environmental damage during conflicts, whether caused by state or non-state actors; and create a stable system of funding and review to guarantee that the complex long-term environmental assistance programmes necessary after conflicts are adequately supported.

Whilst protection of the environment is vital in its own terms, in this context it is also fundamental to the immediate and long-term protection of civilians. Without greater protection for the environment from the effects and legacy of conflict, pollution and degradation will continue to increase the vulnerability and suffering of civilians long after hostilities end.